Vandiperiyar/Kumily: Kerala declared three days of mourning as the toll in the stampede near Kerala's famed Sabarimala Temple climbed to 104 on Saturday with more bodies being brought to hospitals. More than 60 people are injured.
The bodies were first brought to the Vandiperiyar government hospital and from there they were moved to the government hospital in Kumily in Idukki district, nearly 15 km from the accident site, where a team of 60 doctors busied themselves in conducting autopsies. Several grieving devotees tried to identify their near and dear ones among the dead.
The stampede occurred around 8.00 pm on Friday when the pilgrims were returning after watching the celestial Makara Jyothi light, the most important event of the pilgrimage, from a hillock some 30 km from the Sabarimala Temple, when a jeep lost control and rammed into the devotees. This created panic, leading to the stampede.
The tragedy took place in Pulumedu, a forested area about 10 km from the Vandiperiyar town, and about 30 km from the Sabarimala Temple dedicated to Lord Ayyappa in Pathanamthitta district.
One Sri Lankan is among those killed; while 18 are from Tamil Nadu, 12 hail from Karnataka, six from Andhra Pradesh and three belong to Kerala, hospital officials said.
The sighting of the Makara Jyothi celestial flame on the horizon marks the finale of the three-month-long pilgrim season at the mountain shrine.
Most of the bodies and the injured have been brought to the Kumily government hospital.
State Finance Minister Thomas Isaac reached the hospital in the morning and said that the state government will meet the expenses for treating the injured even if they have been admitted to private hospitals in Idukki and Kottayam districts.
"A thorough investigation will be done and the state government will meet all the expenses for transporting the bodies to their homes. As the first step, a sum of Rs 5,000 to the injured has been sanctioned," said Isaac.
"We are told the gruesome accident took place around 8.00 pm at Pulumedu. The entire place was full of vehicles and more than a lakh of pilgrims were returning from a hillock after seeing the celestial light that appeared on the horizon soon after 7.00 pm," Issac said.
"Suddenly a jeep that broke down lost control and rammed into the waiting pilgrims. This created panic, leading to the stampede," said Thomas.
Idukki Congress MP PT Thomas said 71 bodies have so far reached the Vandiperiyar hospital, where all the bodies are being brought after which their autopsy is being conducted at Kumily.
Said senior Congress leader EM Augusthy: "Around 43 bodies have been identified so far and a majority of the dead are from nearby states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka."
Leader of Opposition Oommen Chandy also visited the Vandiperiyar hospital and called for a detailed probe into the tragedy and its cause.
Calling it a national tragedy, Defence Minister AK Antony said he had directed the defence forces to see that all the help be provided.
The Sabarimala Temple is in the state's Pathanamthitta district, situated on the Western Ghat ranges at an altitude of 914 metres above the sea level, four kilometres uphill from the river Pampa.
Pamba, the base camp to the Sabarimala Temple, has been overflowing with pilgrims since the past few days.
First Published: Saturday, January 15, 2011, 13:37